Will publishers turn ebook readers into shiny paper weights

By reeset / On / In Book, ebook

I’ve been meaning to write something about this because I’ve noticed the trend myself, but it took a post from Jonathan (http://bibwild.wordpress.com/2011/12/25/why-a-shift-to-ebooks-imperils-libraries/) regarding challenges libraries will continue to face with the shift to e-books that reminded me to get back to it.  There was an interesting story in the Guardian the other day entitled, “The great ebook price swindle” (http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/cifamerica/2011/dec/23/ebook-price-swindle-publishing) that talked about rising ebook prices.

The article is interesting as it looks at how the 6 large publishing houses, along with Apple, have worked together to shift ebook pricing.  The end result of this being that ebook prices for many popular books are quickly becoming more costly than their print alternatives.  It’s an interesting article, and one that I think is very pertinent given the millions of people that sat down to open gifts today, only to find a shiny new ebook reader.  Once you have one of those little buggers, you are going to want to put something on it – and while there is a lot of free content available, you are going to want to be able to purchase books for reading as well.  And this is where it gets tricky.  When ebook readers were first starting to show up, the big selling point was that the device was convenient (reduced the physical footprint of having a text) and the content had a very low price point.  This year, the ebook readers themselves have literately become disposable technology – but the content is becoming more and more cost prohibitive due to the cost of content.  The question now for ebook owners is when does the convince of owning digital copies become less attractive than the price point for the books.   For example, I could go onto my Kindle today and buy a digital copy of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.   The book will cost me $9.99.  That doesn’t seem bad, but just the other day, I found a paper-back copy of this book in the sale bin for a little less than 1/2 that price.  Depending on the circumstances around my purchase (am I travelling, or at home) – this price point would factor into my decision regarding what copy of the item to own.  At a reduced price point, I can live with some of the inherent limitations with current ebooks (the lack of ability to lend liberally being the largest), but when the cost of the digital object exceeds the physical copy, those limitations become much more difficult to overlook.

So the question that would be really interesting to ask the millions who got shiny new e-readers next Christmas, would be how many actually use there e-readers and if the shifting costs of digital versus analog has changed or effected their purchasing.